The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Change is the order of the day in Jharkhand. The coup by a handful of Samata Party and Janata Dal (United) ministers, which pitch-forked Babulal Marandi out of chief ministership in Ranchi is morphing into a realignment of political forces within the ruling National Democratic Alliance.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is gradually playing second fiddle to its allies, who are still gloating over the spoils of war. The non-controversial chief minister, Arjun Munda, a former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha activist from Singhbhum’s Kharsawan district, handpicked by New Delhi to rein in the disparate flock, is trying to summon his meagre reserve of political wit to humour the herd.

But the cracks are showing. The BJP is cribbing about Munda’s “soft stand” on the Marandi-baiters. Munda, according to Marandi loyalists, has been brow-beaten into handing over plum posts to the Samata Party and JD(U) ministers, who helped unseat Marandi. Virtually all their portfolios have remained unchanged, and two of the dissident ministers have been even elevated to the cabinet rank.

Changing equations

Munda is reported to be busier proving his worth to his party’s central leadership than endearing himself to the local unit these days. Add to this the state BJP’s subtle marginalization in the NDA, and there are chances of a sharp polarization of the coalition’s support base before Jharkhand goes to polls in 2005.

The cosmopolitan vote-bank of the BJP in the urban pockets is likely to sway in favour of any mainstream party which projects a more liberal and upmarket face. Similarly, in the rural areas, the party is losing its credibility because of the growing internal unrest fomented by the three warring factions owing allegiance to Yashwant Sinha, Karia Munda and Arjun Munda.

Moreover, the pre-eminence of the backward lobbies following the emergence of the Samata Party and the JD(U) as parallel power centres in the Jharkhand NDA has not gone down well with the moolvasis (original settlers) and the ethnic groups. The bulk of the Samata Party and JD(U) support base comprises backward Biharis and Hindi-speaking migrants from outside the state.

The Poraiyahat bypoll in Santhal Parganas, where the JMM emerged victorious, could indicate the shape of things to come. The JMM is trying to cash in on the resentment in the Santhal Parganas, Marandi’s home-turf, where Munda’s rating is poor.

Cosmopolitan look

However, in Chhotanagpur, the reactions are mixed. While the former JMM and All Jharkhand Students’ Union activists will root overwhelmingly for the local hero, Munda, the business and the service sectors comprising migrant communities from Bihar, Punjab, south India and Uttar Pradesh might not find the prospect of casting their ballots for a local statehood activist palatable.

Munda has recently ordered the various district administrations to withdraw pending cases against the student leaders who took part in the 1989 economic blockade and agitation. But this is sure to split the traditional JMM vote-bank, which the party would try to avoid at any cost.

The BJP high command’s overdrive to woo the ethnic groups, which form a demographic minority in most of the districts, is already eroding its urban base. On the other hand, the state government’s refusal to concede tribal status to the backward Kudmi-Mahto group, accounting for nearly 22 per cent of the state’s indigenous population, has hit the party badly. The Mahtos, who had tilted towards the BJP after the JMM bribery scandal and the consequent split in the JMM (between the party chief, Sibu Soren, and his deputy, Suraj Mandal) are already disenchanted

Though Munda has been trying to make hasty amends by throwing open teaching jobs in the state to “all citizens of India”, the move has failed to give the BJP the “cosmopolitan” look required to stay afloat in Jharkhand, whose ethnic character has long been swamped by industrialization and migration of labour.

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